Understanding Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)

What are VOCs?

Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, are chemicals that are emitted as gases from solids or liquids and easily evaporated into the air at room temperature. Concentrations of these chemicals can be up to 100 times higher indoors than outdoors. Thousands of products, many that we use every day, or are exposed to every day, emit VOCs into the air while they are being used, and, to some degree, even when they are stored. These products include:

  • Paints and varnishes
  • Moth balls
  • Solvents
  • Building materials
  • Pesticides
  • Gasoline
  • Fuel oil
  • Cooking oils
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Carpeting
  • Wallpaper
  • Vinyl flooring
  • Copiers and printers
  • Upholstery and fabrics
  • Glues and adhesives
  • Permanent markers
  • Craft materials
  • Cosmetics
  • Hair care products
  • Air fresheners
  • Disinfectants
  • Furniture (pressed wood type)
  • Vehicle exhaust
  • Tobacco smoke
While all VOCs have the potential to be harmful, there are a few common VOCs that can be particularly dangerous, and are emitted from a number of products in our homes. These common VOCs are formaldehyde, benzene, and phenol, and are classified as Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For a complete list of all 188 HAPs, click here to visit the EPA website.

Facts You Should Know

VOCs are present in many household products and materials:

  • Furniture, carpeting, dry-cleaning
  • Paint, varnishes, candles, air fresheners
  • Gasoline, kerosene lamps
  • Mold

Most VOCs can’t be detected by smell

Asthma prevalence & severity continue to rise:

  • Outdoor air pollutants continue to decline
  • Strongly suggests that poor indoor air quality plays key contributing role to increase in asthma illnesses

Many types of VOCs can exacerbate or trigger asthma symptoms in asthma patients

Two key classes of indoor air contaminants that contribute to exacerbation of asthma:

  • VOCs
  • Mold